Black Leaders Seek Meeting with Bush on Gulf Coast Recovery

August 1, 2006

Black leaders said they would ask for a meeting with President Bush to address the needs of the Gulf Coast and solutions for speeding up recovery there as the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches.

Speaking on a panel at the National Urban League convention last week, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Katrina should be as much a part of the national agenda as international issues like conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and Lebanon. He said the government should act on behalf of citizens with the same sense of urgency and understanding it showed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Do the same thing in the Gulf States you did in New York,” Sharpton said, adding that the government should also “affirm a right to return” for displaced New Orleanians.

“We must make evacuees a priority,” he said. “We must restore a sense of citizenship.”

A federal response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is the only way to rebuild the region, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said. He called for a “Marshall Plan” to be implemented in the Gulf, similar to the program the United States created after World War II to help its European allies rebuild and combat communism with billions in economic aid.

Congress has provided more than $68 billion in relief to the Gulf Coast after last year’s hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Federal Emergency Management Agency received a flood of criticism after its slow response to Katrina.

Jackson said the rebuilding presents an opportunity for massive skilled training for the area’s residents.

“Katrina was a metaphor for abandoned urban America,” he said. “When you have people who are unemployed and unskilled, they have no incentive to rebuild.”

National Urban League President Marc Morial, said he, Sharpton, Jackson and others would ask Bush for a national summit on the rebuilding effort, which he said he gives a failing grade.

“Don’t forget that it was manmade errors that caused so much human suffering,” Morial said.

Morial, a native New Orleanian who is a former mayor of the city, said no natural disaster should be treated as an opportunity, but that Katrina should be treated as one of the most important causes of our time.

“We rebuild in every other part of this world,” he said. “The question is, can we rebuild our own?

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